Shawnee radio station KGFF celebrates 90th
On Thursday, a longtime institution in Shawnee celebrated its 90th anniversary.
Local radio station KGFF, Shawnee first hit the air waves at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning — Dec. 10, 1930.
And it has continued serving the area ever since.
KGFF General Manager Mike Askins said, though the station had already been in operation for a few years, it was Ross Porter who brought it to Shawnee.
The earliest records on file indicate the Wallace Radio Institute put KGFF on the air in January 1927, Askins said.
“KGFF was started by D.R. Wallace, who operated the Wallace Radio Institute of Oklahoma City. Their stationary touted them as the Southwest’s Largest Radio School,” he said. “The institute operated a technical training station and amateur radio station in Oklahoma City and a commercial broadcast station, KGFF, in Alva.”
It was the commercial outlet Porter brought to Shawnee. At that time KGFF was owned by Stauffer Communications, which also owned Shawnee News-Star's newspapers.
“In the 1930s and '40s, KGFF's news was often read live from the Newsroom at the Morning News and Evening Star papers, Askins said. “I have also been told that there was a radio speaker that was located either in front of the newspaper office or the Aldridge Hotel, where KGFF had studios, that allowed people to stop on the sidewalk and listen to the news as it was being broadcast live.”
In 1937, KGFF became a member of the Mutual Broadcasting System in a cooperative effort with several other stations in the state.
But 1941 brought some changes. On Jan. 1, the network affiliation was switched from Mutual to the NBC Blue Network. Later in 1941 most of the nation’s radio stations had to move up the dial. KGFF went from 1420 to 1450.
In March 1951, KGFF ended its ABC affiliation and once again became a Mutual station. That was not a popular move, according to records compiled by Bill Coxsey, who was KGFF's news director from Dec. 1981 to Nov. 1990. When relations with Mutual weren’t going well a few years later, as network radio continued to decline, there was some discussion about dropping them as well, records read.
Former announcer William (Bill) Weaver wrote, “I know when we dropped ABC down here there was a terrific uproar around town, some of which has not subsided. Our advertisers like the idea of a network affiliation, although we don’t use it a great deal.”
After serving in the Army Air Corps in the south Pacific, Weaver came home and eventually took over management of KGFF,” Askins said.
By 1954 KGFF was feeling the pressure of television.
Weaver set the tone KGFF continued to follow through all the years of his management.
“We have found that we must concentrate more on things here on the local level. Whenever possible, we are making remote broadcasts, adding program where local people participate, going all out for local news,” Weaver said. “Naturally its more expensive, but with television as new as it is, everyone enjoys it and talks about it a lot so it’s the way to recapture the audience.”
Askins said Weaver was general manager of KGFF for 34 years and was his first boss when he started in the late '70s.
Weaver was a big part of KGFF's history, Askins said.
“He has been immortalized in the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, The Gordon Cooper Technology Center Hall of Fame and so much more,” Askins said.
KGFF left its studios in the Aldridge Hotel in 1955 to move most of its operations to the Shawnee Country Club. Some consideration was made about purchasing property east of the city to build new studios and transmitter site, but the long-term (20-year) lease at the country club was a better deal, Coxsey's records read.
In 1967 KGFF joined the pioneering effort to form a state news network with its affiliation with the Indian Nations Network.
At the end of 1968, after 17 years with Mutual, KGFF wanted to drop its affiliation. Mutual was not pleased, Coxsey noted, and decided to hold KGFF to its official contract to carry broadcasts until May 1, 1969.
The success of the Indian Nations Network sparked a competitor when in November 1968, KTOK in Oklahoma City announced the formation of the Oklahoma News Network. It went on the air Dec. 2, 1968, to compete with the I.N.N., records read.
The new network made an offer KGFF’s management could not turn down, Askins said.
“Weaver wrote to I.N.N. manager Lewis Coleman that the addition of the ABC Information Network newscasts and Paul Harvey made the ONN too good to turn down,” he said.
But just a few months later the decision didn’t matter because the ONN bought out INN and the networks merged.
In the Fall of 1975 KGFF moved into its own building on a 10-acre site at the corner of Bryan and MacArthur. The building was designed specifically to be a radio station with sound-proofing in the walls and windows of all studios.
In February of 2003, KGFF built new studios and began operating from the FireLake Discount Foods building at 1570 S. Gordon Cooper Drive. But even after the studio move to FireLake, the Bryan and MacArthur tower site remained in use since the transmitter and tower could not be moved to the new location. Due to FCC rules regarding spacing with other stations on the same frequency, the short move south was determined to be a technical encroachment on a radio signal from Denton, Texas. After getting FCC permission for a minor modification of the transmitter location, KGFF was able to build a new tower and transmitter facility on Brangus Road — one mile east of the Bryan/MacArthur site.
In December of 2011, KGFF began broadcasting from the new tower.
In the early 1990s, after the passing of Oscar Stauffer — and due to corporate restructuring and management changes — it was suggested that KGFF find a local owner, Askins said.
The next few years would see multiple ownership changes.
Overland Communications bought KGFF in the fall of 1992 and then sold the license and equipment, but not the building, tower or land, to Huston Communications in 1994. The Sanders-Cantrell Partnership bought the operation in 1996 and then entered into a lease-management agreement with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in 1998 that ended in an ownership change to CPN Jan. 1, 1999.
Day one, Dec. 10, 1930
The station's first offering was a half-hour long KGFF Devotional Hour. Station records state the first minister to appear was Rev. W. A. Carter from the Church of the Nazarene on South Park Street. After that came thirty minutes of Shopping Suggestions from Shawnee Merchants — followed by two hours of silence (from 10 a.m. to noon). Those silent hours were to keep from interfering with a Kansas station on the same frequency, the records state. KGFF also was off the air from 1:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. for the same reason.
During the noon hour of that first day there was a program of Luncheon Music performed by Chic Haynes and His Hotel Aldridge Orchestra.
“Since the KGFF studios were located on the mezzanine of the 'beautiful Hotel Aldridge' it was convenient for the orchestra to make regular appearances,” the records read. “They would play again each evening at six with their Dinner Hour Music program and individual orchestra member would take solo stints on the air.”
After that first day KGFF was off the air for a week to make some adjustments.
“The antenna was a T-shaped contraption of wires strung on wooden poles between the Aldridge Hotel and the Masonic Building across the street,” the records state. “At the time KGFF was at 1420 kilocycles with 100 watts of power.”
Day two, Dec. 17, 1930
Adjustments made, the radio station got back up and running just in time for a historic piece of local election coverage.
“The Luncheon Hour Music was cut short that day; At 12:30 p.m. a program listed as Court House Speaker was broadcast.,” Askins said. “This was the Special Election day to decide whether the county seat should be moved from Tecumseh to Shawnee.”
Throughout the evening the votes came in and were reported precinct by precinct, setting a precedent that continues to this day.
Shawnee’s population was about 23,000 at that time; Tecumseh had 2,400, he said.
Tecumseh and Pottawatomie County ballots favored Tecumseh, but in a 5,268 to 4,785 vote, a big Shawnee vote settled the election.
In those first months there were two newscasts each day.
“At 1:15 p.m. from the newsroom of the Shawnee Morning News there were the Early News Flashes,” it reads. “On most nights at 7:45 p.m. the Late News Flashes and Oil News would be done from the newsroom of the Shawnee Evening Star.”
At 9 p.m. listeners would hear the Government Weather Report just before KGFF would say good night.
Throughout the day there were numerous solo and group musicians — all live, all local.
On Dec. 23, 1930, D. R. Wallace was asked by the Federal Radio Commission why the continued operation of KGFF in Shawnee should be allowed. His response was that KGFF was broadcasting weather, news flashes, agriculture information, entertainment and local sporting events, civic news, and other local events, which were not covered by outside sources.
On Jan. 26, 1931, Ross Porter filed for the official transfer of KGFF’s license from Wallace to the new KGFF Broadcasting Co. In that first license request, Porter said that KGFF would devote 40 percent of its broadcast week to commercial programs, 25 percent entertainment, 10 percent to religious, education and agricultural programs and 5 percent to oil news. And a new Western Electric transmitter and tower would be installed to further improve the signal.
KGFF’s new transmitter was sending the signal of Shawnee’s voice all over Oklahoma. Letters were arriving from Cushing, Ada, Holdenville, Norman and Pauls Valley. Some late nite tests were heard even farther away in Buffalo, N.Y., Nebraska, the Dakotas, Michigan and Chicago.
By the end of 1931 KGFF’s broadcast schedule had expanded enough to be on the air all day long. There were no longer morning and afternoon breaks.
In 1935 a new self-supporting single tower was built atop the Aldridge Hotel replacing the T-type antenna.
In 1936 management began looking for a rural site for the transmitter to further improve the signal. The first site considered was on Mission Hill, records read. But the best deal came from the Shawnee Country Club so the tower was placed there, Askins said.
Switching to NBC Blue Network (Jan. 1, 1941), KGFF became able to bring the latest WWII news, often from the front itself.
On May 1, 1944, station manager Maxine Eddy wrote a special memo outlining how KGFF was planning to cover the impending invasion of Europe by Allied forces. They knew the invasion was coming, but not the exact day and time for D-Day. KGFF and the Shawnee News-Star made special arrangements to give listeners and readers complete coverage from the moment the invasion began.
“To give listeners and readers warning that the news for which we are all waiting has come, KGFF has made arrangements with the O. G. Harp Poultry and Egg Company, and the Rock Island Railroad Company for a whistle signal to extend for three minutes,” Eddy wrote. “This simultaneous whistle blast will be notice to Shawnee residents that KGFF will return to the air immediately and that the News-Star will keep you informed through your local newspaper of the invasion proceedings.”
It was arranged that the whistle signal would be given at any hour of the day or night.
It was Weaver who was the KGFF announcer on duty when the bulletin came in that Pearl Harbor had been attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.
Other precautionary measures were prepared, as well.
In a note from the FCC in September 1943 concerning a possible takeover by enemy agents, “The Federal Communications Commission has requested that this office ascertain from you as to what steps, if any, have been taken for immediately rendering your broadcast transmitter inoperative in case of forcible taking over by enemy agents. Such steps could consist of a concealed switch or switches. These could be arranged so that it would be difficult for any non-employee to get the station back on the air, for the purposes of disseminating false information, without a very appreciable delay.”
KGFF’s chief engineer at the time, Salvatore Ricciotti wrote back, “We have installed a relay in the main power circuit to the transmitter which when operated from a concealed switch by the operator on duty at the plant, will cut off power to the transmitter and immediately rend it inoperative.”
KGFF was ready if the Germans or Japanese invaded Shawnee, Coxsey wrote.
Some fun facts during KGFF's service to the community:
• Alfred J. Spooner was listed as program coordinator for KGFF in the early '30s.
• In April 1931 a special program came to KGFF: A picture in words and music of the growth of Shawnee and the presentation of KGFF’s first radio play to begin with the coming of the white man to Shawnee and end with the bringing of KGFF and the latest civic development to the city. The 15-week series was written and performed in collaboration with several OBU students and professors.
• A program note from April 12, 1931, showed an appearance that Sunday afternoon by Ethel Barrymore. The Mammoth Department Store sponsored the thirty-minute show. There were no other notes to explain the details of her visit to Shawnee.
• Until 1937 all of KGFF’s programs were local or recorded. More listeners were demanding the highly competitive and sophisticated shows produced by the networks. That year KGFF became a member of the Mutual Broadcasting System in a cooperative effort with several other stations in the state.
• In May 1937 KGFF was given special permission to stay on the air all night to broadcast live coverage of the coronation of Britain’s King George VI.
• KGFF Sports was on the air for its first football season in 1931. A program schedule for Nov. 11, 1931, shows that in addition to a special Armistice Day program from a combined meeting of the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs at 2 p.m., there was a broadcast of Wolves football: Shawnee High School vs El Reno High School Football Game. There was also Friday night college football coverage: “Oklahoma Baptist University vs Phillips University of Enid.
• The earliest record of baseball in the network file was from 1939 when KGFF reported to the FCC that the 1939 World Series was broadcast from the Mutual Network sponsored by Gillette.
• An article in the Pottawatomie County History reported on KGFF’s all-woman staff during WWII. KGFF’s female manager said at the time, “Our announcing staff was one of our weakest points. Up to a few months ago we had only women announcers and were getting a lot of criticism on that score. I’ve succeeded in getting two boys under draft age who are turning out fine.”
• On the potential rise of television, in a 1944 memo from station manager Maxine Eddy to owner Oscar Stauffer (of Stauffer Communications), she suggested there were too many unanswered questions.
“There is still a lot to be done to make television worthwhile from any angle — ownership or listener. Television plans are being made by the networks, but it looks as if the commission (FCC) will have something to say about whether the present networks will be able to form television networks or not.”
• After the Golden Age of Radio on the 1930s, '40s and '50s, nationally produced Radio Shows were on the decline and KGFF began airing fewer live music shows and joined the trend to use local Announcers/Disc Jockeys playing records between the news and other feature programs.
• The format for KGFF has gone through many changes: in the mid to late 1970s was considered MOR (Middle Of the Road) with a light popular music base in the daytime and a more Top 40 sound that mixed Rock’n’Roll with Disco and other genres of Hit Radio at night.
• In the early 1980s, KGFF followed the Urban Cowboy craze and went to a Country format for a short time.
• In 1984 the Oldies sound was popular again and KGFF shifted to a '50s, '60s, '70s Rock’n’Roll format.
• Another format change sparked a switch to adult contemporary music in 1992.
• In 1994 it was back to the Past Hits with '50s through '80s music.
• In 2000, the station changed its image to Legends 1450 KGFF, playing an eclectic mixture of music from the Big Band era through the Light Pop sounds of the 1990s and 2000s.
• In December of 2009, KGFF changed its image to Kool Gold KGFF, playing a mix of pop/rock music from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s.
• In 2016 KGFF modified that image to Classic Hits KGFF.
For more information, visit kgff.com.